Neither the feminist movement nor the students’ movement “discarded/sacrificed” LGBTI+s. They could not divide us; on the contrary, our struggle has become intersected and grown like never before. We started to see rainbows everywhere, from Newroz to Boğaziçi protests, from 8th of March to the Istanbul Convention protests.
During the protests on February 1, a student climbed the gate of Boğaziçi University’s South Campus and waved an LGBTI+ flag. That student is now undergoing disciplinary proceedings by the university. On March 25, a call was made to gather for solidarity in the North Campus. Students who wanted to go to the North Campus were stopped by the police and four students were taken under custody for carrying LGBTI+ flags. Among the students who protested detentions, eight more students were detained.
Before these events that took place at noon and in the evening, in the morning of the same day we woke up to the news of LGBTI+ phobia from Aydın. A gay man was tortured, and the perpetrator even shared the torture visuals on social media. The perpetrator was arrested following the reactions on social media.
The government, especially over the Istanbul Convention and the Boğaziçi University protests, has carried out a significant hostility and criminalization policy towards LGBTI+. In the official statement for pulling out of the Istanbul Convention, but even before that, discussions were initiated in the media, by the government authorities, to exclude LGBTI+s from the feminist movement and to divide the feminist movement. During the first weeks of Boğaziçi Protests, discussions started about the existence of LGBTI+ flags in the protests; later an artwork was tried; during the trials the prosecutor asked questions such as “are you a member of LGBT?”; the shutdown of the BULGBTI+ (Boğaziçi University LGBTI+ Student Club) was given as the reason for the siege on February 1; and finally, students carrying LGBTI+ flag were taken into custody. I believe that here, the situation is very similar to that of debates around the Istanbul Convention. Just like they believed that the feminist movement would be divided, here they thought that they could break the resistance of students and exclude LGBTI+s from the protests. However, neither the feminist movement nor the students allowed it.
Of course, no matter how good the solidarity, attacks also continue to increase one after another. Turkey has never been a country free from LGBTI+ phobia. Despite the relatively free environment in Boğaziçi, it has also not been completely free from the phobia. However –at least since my childhood– I have not seen such a state-sponsored hostility towards LGBTI+. It was not spoken of; it was a taboo, but the Pride Parade was nonetheless organized. When the Pride Parade was banned, the government authorities had never said “LGBT perverts”; at least, not that I can recall. It has never been easy; the state was against us, but it had not waged an open war against us. At most, the Pride Parade would be banned based on excuses such as the month of “Ramadan”. Outright banning of flags is totally new. Right now, the state points at us as targets; it is impossible to feel safe in such an environment. According to a yearly survey conducted in Kadir Has University, the rate of those who think LGBTI+ are “repugnant” has increased in 2020 compared to previous years. In other words, while the LGBTI+ phobia has been in decline for a long time (or while the state is supposed to work for its decline), with the state support, it is increasing more than ever. There is an attempt to induce an artificial phobia, and as far as I can see this attempt was most clearly and predominantly manifested during Boğaziçi protests and the Istanbul Convention debates.
In the Istanbul Convention debates, both the government and the opposition talked quite a lot about LGBTI+. Here, I want to focus on the talks on the opposition. Similar to the critiques such as “TV programs in which femicides are discussed are full of men!” when it comes to LGBTI+, no LGBTI+ activists are invited to the programs, no LGBTI+ associations are included in the process. I think the biggest shortcoming of the opposition in these debates was that they could not openly talk about LGBTI+s. It is a big mistake that there is no mention of a movement that has defended the Istanbul Convention from the outset. Besides the Istanbul Convention, there are GREVIO reports monitoring the convention and they are available at the website of the Ministry of Family, Labor, and Social Services. These reports openly point out that the state provides insufficient information concerning lesbian, bisexual, Kurdish and trans women and does not protect women in these groups. It was a big achievement that even in a period when the Istanbul Convention was not implemented, such reports were published and made accessible on the Ministry’s website. That is, it really pushed state to recognize the LGBTI+ existence. Defending the Convention by saying “the convention does not propagate homosexuality” is a dangerous discourse in that it can pave the way for a feminist movement that excludes LGBTI+, just like the state wants.
As I write this article, of course, the political agenda has changed once again. Of the students who gathered in front of the Çağlayan Courthouse to protest the detention of 26 students on March 25, 52 more students were taken into custody before they could even make a press release. The process that continued with the investigation into the rainbow flag and the detention of those who protested such an investigation, continued with the detention of 52 more people during the protest against the unjust detentions. Against all these detentions, students gathered at Boğaziçi University North Campus and a student leaving the campus was “captured” by undercover police officers in order to take the statement of the student. In the current situation, 26 people were released on judicial control decisions, 47 people were said to be released after giving statements, and we learned that six people would spend the night of March 26 in custody.
Nonetheless, I want to say that I am hopeful. Both attempts of the government have failed. Neither the feminist movement nor the students’ movement “discarded/sacrificed” LGBTI+s. They could not divide us; on the contrary, our struggle has become intersected and grown like never before. We started to see rainbows everywhere, from Newroz to Boğaziçi protests, from 8th of March to the Istanbul Convention protests. The more they tried to ban the rainbow, the more they spread it everywhere –more than it has ever been. Not only the LGBTI+ struggle, but every struggle grows as they intersect with and encounter each other. The more the pressure on us increases, the more resistant we have to be. And, it gives great strength and great hope when we are not alone in this resistance. We need to not give up today, so that we will have the days that the Istanbul Convention will be reinstituted, the trustees will be gone, and we will walk both the Feminist Night March and the Pride Parade on Istiklal Street. We do not accept, we do not give up.
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan